Fitting a bit for your horse
Your horse’s bridle and bit are more than just decor. The bit helps you communicate with your horse, and depending on the style of bit, can be quite complicated. Fitting a bit for your horse is just as important as saddle fit, if not more.
Things to consider for the best bit fit
- The bit needs to fit the width of his mouth. What I mean by this is that there is about 1/4 of an inch or more on either side of his lips when the bit is resting in his mouth. Careful that there is not too much extra, as this causes the bit to slide side to side. The reason for this is to keep the very fleshy lips away from any “pinchy” areas where the bit meets the bit rings.
- It fits the space in his mouth. The space I’m referring to is the area between his upper hard palate and his bars. The bars are the semi-soft area between his upper and lower chompers. Ideally, the bit should be no more than 1/2 of that space. This is where your horse’s specific mouth anatomy, including tongue thickness and palate location, varies from your friend’s horse. This is the exact reason why it’s not totally correct to say that “all thin bits are harsh”. The reality is that some thin bits are actually thick in some horses and vice versa!
Check the position of the bit
- It’s positioned correctly on the bars of the mouth. Start in the middle, about halfway between the upper and lower teeth. You may have heard the old saying about 1-2 wrinkles in the corner of the mouth being ideal. This is another case in which anatomy sometimes bucks the rules. Go for the position on the bars and feel in his mouth when you are riding over wrinkles.
The bars of the mouth are seen here, above and below the tongue where there are no teeth.
- It’s not interfering with his teeth, or his teeth aren’t interfering with his bit. Regular inspections of his mouth by your veterinarian and regular dental care can alleviate alignment issues as well as protect his gums. This also allows your veterinarian to create a “bit seat” if needed in his mouth. A note about wolf teeth, too, which are the tiny teeth that are usually removed while your horse is a very young fellow. Sometimes they come back!
- It feels good to him and his palate. Be mindful of two or three-piece bits, as the inverted “V” shape created by these bits will press against the palate. This is where test riding several bits and adjusting the bit in his mouth several times comes in handy.
Measuring for bit fit
- A word about homemade measuring devices. While it’s a seemingly good idea to grab some rope or twine and use that to measure his mouth, I have an easier suggestion. Grab a super clean bit from a friend and use that instead. Rope, twine, or even a tape measure (yes, I spotted a website that suggested this) can abrade or scrape. A real bit will mimic how a new one will actually fit. Then you can bring it to the tack store and compare sizes and thicknesses. A bit measuring device is straight, and most bits are jointed, and you need to account for that.
Mouth sores and bit sores while fitting a bit
- If you notice any sores or open areas in the corners of your horse’s mouth, the bit may not be the proper one. You may notice something immediately after trying a new bit, or the sores may develop over time. Many riders use a bit of ointment (like A & D) in the corners of the mouth to help the bit slide around. You may also want to use bit guards – those rubbery rings that go in between your horse’s mouth and the cheekpiece of the bit.
- There is also the possibility that the mouth sore is not the result of fitting a bit. Summer sores, caused by the partnership between a worm and a fly, are often found around mucus membranes. Some horses, the geniuses that they are, are prone to wood chewing habits that may include getting a wound from a shard of wood. And then there’s the dumb luck of foxtails and other prickly weeds.
- It’s always worth some detective duty and a call to the vet, just in case. Also be sure to go over your horse’s bridle fit, just in case a cheekpiece, flash, or noseband is improperly fitted.
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